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Begich receives ANB/ANS Grand Camp endorsement


Mary Koppes / Petersburg Pilot

Senator Mark Begich (at left) does a question-and-answer session facilitated by ANB Grand President Bill Martin after his speech at the Grand Camp last week.

After hearing from incumbent U.S. Senator Mark Begich and his opponent, Republican candidate Dan Sullivan, at the ANB/ANS Grand Camp last Friday, the Native organization endorsed Begich.

Both candidates spoke on issues important to the Native community including subsistence rights, access to healthcare for rural veterans, and curbing domestic violence among other issues.

Begich's talk focused on his work in the senate to date as an advocate for Alaska Natives. He spoke of his work on the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs. His work with the committee, he said, has helped lead to increased local healthcare access for veterans who can now use their VA benefits at tribal clinics and rural health facilities.

Sullivan addressed military service and veterans issues from his standpoint as a Lt. Colonel in the Marine Corps reserves with 21 years of service.

Though Sullivan didn't offer specific policy recommendations, he said the treatment of veterans-- specifically long wait times and back logs in the VA-- is "a national disgrace," and that improving the situation would be one of his top priorities.

Both candidates focused on veterans because Alaska has the highest proportion of Native veterans, 8 percent, of all states and because American Indians and Alaska Natives participate in the U.S. military in higher rates than any other ethnic group, according to a 2012 report from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Whereas both candidates support greater assistance for veterans, they diverged on the issue of subsistence rights.

Begich distinguished his position as one of support for hunting and fishing rights for Alaska Natives based on inherent rights.

"It is not a right that is negotiated. It is your right to survive, to hunt and fish on the lands that are your lands," Begich said as the crowd erupted in applause.

In the past two decades especially, there have been political and legislative battles between the state and federal government regarding subsistence rights and Native and rural preference for Alaskans continuing a tradition of subsisting off the land and sea.

Sullivan defended his past actions as state attorney general in a case related to these issues: Katie John v. the United States of America. The case sought to determine fishing rights for various stakeholders on the Copper River. Many Natives saw this as a Native preference issue, but Sullivan said he saw it as a water control issue that sought to determine "what degree either the state or federal government would have control over Alaska's water."

Erik LeDuc

Senate candidate Dan Sullivan spoke with Petersburg resident Dale Bosworth at Glacier Express Cafe on Saturday during a public meet and greet, where Bosworth pressed Sullivan on matters of oceanic accountability. "I don't know what you plan on doing at 80, but I'm fishing," Bosworth said, still running a solo fishing operation.

When pressed by an audience member during a Q&A after his speech, Sullivan said, "Right now in terms of where I would be on a Native only preference, I think that that's not something I would be supportive of right now."

Instead he offered, "I support subsistence as the highest priority use for our fish and game as required under both state and federal law."

This senatorial race is one that's garnered national attention. The Alaska seat along with a handful of other seats will determine majority rule in the Senate. Currently Republicans have a majority in the House of Representatives and Democrats have a majority in the Senate.

Begich closed by reminding the audience of the importance of the Alaska Native vote in determining the country's political future. "This is the election that the Alaska Native Community...will determine. You will make that determination more than any other single group in Alaska."

Alaska has the largest proportion of Natives, including both American Indians and Alaska Natives, of all states. According to, Natives comprise 19.5 percent of the overall state population and 16.9 percent of voting-age Alaskans.


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